Build your own village: The rise of single parents sharing a home together

Photo: Gold Coast mums Willo and Kerry, along with their kids are creating their own 'blended' family by sharing a house ...
Photo: Gold Coast mums Willo and Kerry, along with their kids are creating their own 'blended' family by sharing a house together Photo: Supplied

We've always known that it takes a village to raise a child — and COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to be reminded of how much harder it is to cope when that village isn't always there.

But I know from experience that being a single parent can be a lonely, solitary existence. 

Although I have now re-partnered, I remember struggling with things like running late for drop-offs, finding a babysitter if I wanted to go out at night, or just having someone to talk to at the end of a tough day that wasn't entirely focused on Giggle and Hoot instead of me. 

One way some single parents are building their own village is by creating their own home along with another single parent — effectively creating their own blended family.

One such blended family are Gold Coast mums Willo and Kerry, along with Willo's kids Dustin (six) and Monique (four), and Kerry's kids Connor (eight) and Calvin (two). 

It was actually COVID that brought Willo and Kerry together, with Kerry renting Willo's home for three months at the start of lockdown, while Willo and her children went to spend some time in the country with her mum.  

"When everything started to get back to normal and the schools went back, I told [Kerry] and said we will come back and maybe we could try living in the same place, until she got her own place," says Willo.

"And fast forward till today, almost seven months later, and we are still living together. We got along so great, were such support to each other and the kids got along so well that it would be a shame to change it."

Willo admits there were some issue adjusting to living together, but she says it all came down to communication.

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"We talked about our routines with the kids as they are all different ages and worked out a schedule of who uses kitchen first and second and who then is doing showers and baths first or second so we alternate the small spaces better so we are to always in the namespace trying to accomplish something," she says. 

"It is just communication and we both are good communicators, so it makes it possible."  

Some of the advantages of living together are obvious: "We like it because we both pay less rent and expenses," says Willo.

While others have been more unexpected: "We can lean on each other for support; for example my car got in a crash and the repairs took three days, but we shared [Kerry's] car for those days and managed to work out school and daycare drop off."
As for drawbacks, Willo says she and Kerry have a different idea of what constitutes mess.

"I am a little OCD about it all and [Kerry] isn't as much," she says. "But we agreed to get a cleaner in every fortnight with the money we both saved combining our rent and expenses so that makes it much easier for me when it comes to cleaning."

We have never been able to change things by fighting an existing reality. To change something, we must create a new...

Posted by ShareAbode on  Wednesday, 20 May 2020

A constant adjustment

Another pair of single parents sharing a home, Melissa* and Kath* from Enmore, NSW are living with one child each, an 18-month old and a two-year-old. They met through a Share Abode, a website that matches up single parents looking for a house mate. 

They say living together is a constant adjustment, but that's not a bad thing.

"Life has things happen, kids are dynamic and ever changing and it's the continual learning and growth that can be a positive thing for both of us and the kids," they say. 

"We have had to create boundaries with chores and with areas of the house as the kids still nap in the day sometimes (on weekends) but it is just a constant reminder to the kids about those boundaries. 

"That's a totally normal thing, living with someone or not. We both work full-time during the week so we see each other at nights and we really have such a separate space we can go without seeing each other some nights."  

Melissa and Kath say it's day-to-day living that is easier with two adults in the house.

"We like that we can depend on each other to make things a bit easier that normally are challenging and take longer to complete," they say.

"Such as one can mind the kid while the other goes to a quick doctors appointment, or food shopping or takes an important phone call or has a shower. The money savings is great but for us it's the logistical benefit that makes things just that bit easier."

So many benefits

Psychologist Donna Cameron agrees sharing with another parent sounds like "the perfect idea". 

"The positives of sharing with another single parent are that they are aware of what you are going through, they have been through a separation and they have or are learning how to parent alone," she says. 

"Finding the right person can give you another support person in your life, someone to talk to and also an adult in the house to bridge that feeling of being alone and lonely.

"It can [also] be a financial help and provide the options for families to live in larger properties with bigger outdoor areas for the children to play."

Cameron says to make it work it's important to be up-front from the start.

"You need to have in place very clear boundaries from day one, an understanding that you are sharing a house but you are still two independent family units," she says.

"Rules about the simple tasks such as cleaning, cooking and who has access to which spaces in the house.

"Talk about your parenting styles to see if these align, how you each discipline your children and what activities your children are involved in.

 "You are not looking for your new best friend, a counsellor or a nanny so remind yourself this and search for someone who has similar values to you."

Of course, sharing with another person — especially if you don't already know each other — can be challenging, but Willo and Kerry say they would recommend it.

"It has taken a load off our plates," they say. "Our kids have become really good friends and learnt a lot from one another. 

"We have each saved a good amount of money and it's reassuring to know someone else is there for you in an everyday capacity and for your kids and you can flow that back to them, feels really good."

Melissa and Kath agree: "We are not meant to live alone and raise children," they say. "We need a tribe. Not just for us, but for our children."